From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

5 Ways to Get Out of Your Creative Writing Comfort Zone

A lot of us writers have a set way of doing things. Both our work and our writing life have patterns and habits that we may not even recognize. But a lot of times we can be missing out on some great opportunities if we don't get out of our comfort zone every once in a while. Here are some ideas of how to do just that:

1. Try a new genre. This is an obvious but important one. If you've never tried poetry, try it. If you've never tried YA, try it. You may be surprised at what you can do, and may find a new love.

2. Try a new style/voice. This is related to the first, but slightly different. For example, even if you want to stick with one of your customary genres, maybe try writing it in present tense. If you've never written a male main character, try it. Experiment with voice by pretending you are a different writer.

3. Change up your writing space. Rearrange your office, library, bedroom, wherever you write. Put new pictures in the room. Experiment with the music that you play. And if you don't want to go that far, just try writing in a bunch of new places like parks, coffee shops, or a different room in the house. See what happens.

4. Use a new marketing venue. There are so many marketing opportunities out there, and you never know what could happen when you start using new ones. Sites like facebook, twitter, myspace, youtube, flickr, or even community gaming sites. Experiment with newspapers, book clubs, or other events. If you market primarily to middle-age women, maybe see what happens with college students.

5. Find new editor-friends. Its great to have a set group of people who can help critique your work, but a fresh set of eyes may give you feedback you otherwise would not have gotten. Each person has a different take, and a fresh take may know exactly what it is your piece needs to make it work.

What are your ideas? What do you do when you feel your writing getting stale?

Sarah Allen

Saturday, March 27, 2010

This Morning's Poetry Reading at BYU

This morning I had the opportunity to read some poetry at BYU's literary conference, 'Frame by Frame.' It was a good experience, and hopefully one you may be able to benefit from. Here are some tips for doing a reading.

Relax. Last night I was actually pretty nervous about this, but the conference was pretty chill and everyone was really nice. If you don't stress about it and let yourself relax, then you'll be more natural, likeable and memorable.

Prepare. Like I said, you don't need to stress overly much, but its good to prepare a little. For the life of me I could not decide what order in which to read my poems, but that turned out to be ok. I just went with the flow, and for some things that works best. But I had sort of thought a little bit about what to say about each piece, and that turned out to be important. In fact, I wish I had done more preparing in that regard. Just prepare enough for you to keep things flowing, easy and natural.

Keep perspective. Whatever happens, remember that the reception you get is just as subjective as submitting your pieces for publication, just on a more intimate level. In the case of this morning, everyone was very kind, but it was a very small group and nothing spectacular happened. Thats ok. Remember who your audience is and don't expect more or less then is reasonable. And if you get less then expected, remember its all subjective, don't let any of it get you down, and better luck next time. If you get more then expected, then fantastic.

Hope this helps! I would love to hear from you all and how your writing lives are going.

Sarah Allen

Monday, March 22, 2010

Story Start: Dorothy's Birthday

I've been looking through my files, and found the beginnings of a story that I did for a class a while ago. Feel free to use whatever you find useful.

On Dorothy’s birthday she woke up before everyone else. Birthdays still made her as excited as they did when she was five. She smiled as she adjusted the blue quilt to cover her husbands exposed feet. She would probably still have to make breakfast for him and Ted and Lily, but she still hoped for breakfast in bed. She wanted chocolate malt-o-meal and wheat toast with honey. Also some orange juice, on the glass tray they still had from Mrs. Lambert. The alarm from the apartment next door shocked her out of her culinary reveries, but Paul snored right through it. Their neighbors alarm woke her up most mornings, but usually she just fell right back asleep. This morning she couldn’t. Dorothy wondered why the man next door always got up so early. She knew he was a business man, so he probably got up to work on some presentation. Maybe he had an early flight to a big conference in Europe. Or maybe that was all a cover up and he was really a CIA agent who had to get out early to do research on a major drug lord in Chicago.

Paul choked mid-snore. She almost had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing. She smiled down at him and brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes. He smelled like Listerine. Maybe he had already bought her a present. She doubted it. Paul was a sweet guy, but he didn’t usually remember things like birthdays. At least he had warned her. On their third date he told her that when he turned 12 he didn’t remember it was his birthday until his mom started singing Happy Birthday to him at breakfast. It made her laugh, but it also bothered her. Dorothy was into the details. She was spontaneous and frequently rearranged the living room furniture and the kitchen spice drawer, but once things were in their place, they stayed there. She also had a huge calendar hung up over the kitchen sink with the whole family’s plans for the month, but maybe Paul just never looked at it.

Even if Paul did remember to get her a present, it was probably the wrong one. She had shown him newspaper ads about the Broadway tours of Les Miserables and Seussical the Musical that were coming to town, and had played the CD’s non-stop, but he probably didn’t get the hint. She expected to end up with the usual gift card to Home Depot. She knew the drawers in the kitchen got stuck, and the garage needed shelves, and Ted’s shower head leaked, but was he really that concerned about it? It just made her feel guilty for not having gotten to it sooner. She just wanted to get out and be with no one but Paul. Even tickets to just one of the shows would be nice.

Sarah Allen

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Play Review: Tennessee Williams' 'The Glass Menagerie' at Provo Theater Company

If you're anywhere near Utah Valley, you need to come to this show. Honestly, I'm not terribly familiar with the work of Tennessee Williams, but based on what I saw last night, he is a writer that any artist can learn from. The story is very simple, not based on spectacle, and does not end happily. But still it is whole, and leaves you with a sense of emotional satisfaction and even hope.

But great writing needs to be greatly portrayed, and this production is stellar. Put on by the Mortal Fools Theater Project and directed by David Morgan, the quality of this production is of the kind you usually have to go out of Utah Valley to see. The cast is made up of only four people, and every one of them is phenomenal. Every character was pitiable, pitiful, smooth and haunting.

Reese Purser played a wonderfully edgy, on the brink Tom. His asides to the audience were natural and helped us understand what was going on. My favorite moment of his is when he and his mother finally smile together.

Daryl Ball played Jim in a very unobtrusive, boy-next-door sort of way. You felt comfortable and happy around him from the minute he walked on the stage. It was clear why Laura liked him. And David Morgan's direction in the kissing scene was absolutely perfect.

First off, I would just like to commend Karen Baird (Amanda) for basically memorizing the entire play. It really is the character of Amanda that does almost all the talking and has to keep the play running. And she did it beautifully. Her Amanda left you wanting to both stuff a pillow in her face and tell her everything would be alright; which is exactly how Amanda is supposed to make you feel.

Last but certainly not least, Stephanie Foster Breinholt played a beautifully nervous Laura. She doesn't say much, but if you take your eyes off of her, you miss loads. It was obvious she had worked and thought long and hard about this play and her character, and the payoff was brilliant.

Please don't miss out on this show. Sit back and let the brilliant acting transport you into the world of Tennessee Williams.

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Plotless in Provo

The book I've been writing has been giving me some trouble. It comes to me in scenes that I see as a movie. I was talking to me roommate about this, and she said, well why not write it as a movie. So I am. I'm working in reading "The Screenwriters Bible by David Trottier and then I'm going to hopefully make this story into a screenplay that will break box-office records and win me an academy award. Thats the plan, anyway.

And thats the good news. The bad news is that now that I'm using that story for a screenplay, I now need a new book idea. This is where things get hard for me. I love coming up with characters, situations, little vinnets, bits of dialogue, mini-scenes, etc., but it is really hard for me to come up with something that will put it all together into a structured whole. Basically, I have a plot problem. Granted, its only been a few days and plots don't just pop up whenever you want them, (wouldn't that be nice), but any advice would be fantastic.

Where do you guys find the most successful inspiration for plots? I've been looking at newspapers, writing books, etc, and hopefully something will come to me soon. But what advice can you give me in the meantime?

Sarah Allen

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Moments vs Story

I think every writer tends towards one of two sides: moments of brilliance or geniusly elaborate story. Like in photography, its sort of like a macro versus a pan shot. Each writer has the own character and style that focuses, cares about and emphasizes one side over the other. One is not necessarily better then the other, its just an individual thing.

In the 'Geniusly elaborate story' side, the big picture is the most developed. This is where you get a lot of crime novels, and writers like J. R. R. Tolkien. Television drama like Crossing Jordan or CSI usually tends towards this side. The writers spend most of their time coming up with an intricate and intriguing story. To be totally honest, this is most definitely not the side I fall on; coming up with cool plots is not my forte.

On the moments of brilliance side, things like character quirks, bits of dialogue or a beautiful description are what matters. Poetry falls pretty much 100% under this category, unless you're Homer or Milton. Also this is where you get a lot of sitcoms like The Office or Frasier, where the stories aren't all that elaborate, but you watch it for the characters and funny moments.

Obviously the key is to get some of both. I would say an example of a generally story-oriented work that has some moments of brilliance would be Harry Potter, or Lost, the moments being the Snape chapter in the seventh book, or for Lost, any scene with Michael Emerson. And on the other side, you could say that what is really important in a book like Gone With the Wind are the character quirks and moments between Scarlett and Rhett, but it is also a sweeping and elaborate story that the moments kind of add up to.

Its hard to go against natural tendency and incorporate more of the side that is harder for you, but recognition is the first step, and I think it could turn out to be a useful and beneficial exercise. I know that in my case I focus so much on moments that I have a hard time writing anything with structure. But we're all growing, right?

So what do you guys think?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dr. Linus: Michael Emerson is genius...again

I just bought the episode on iTunes, and while I'm waiting for it to download I thought I might as well write about how genius and creatively inspiring Michael Emerson is.

And the iTunes ratings validate me. This episode has a way higher popularity then any of the other episodes this season. Anyone keeping up on the tweets about it will realize how many people were touched by Michael Emerson's performance. There were many people saying how they didn't ever expect to like or feel sorry for Ben, but that Michael Emerson pulled it off.

His speech with Ilana at the end was stunning. I was on the treadmill at the gym watching, and I had to keep myself from crying so I wouldn't freak anybody out. "Because he's the only one that'll have me." Brilliant.

It seems like Ben always has the best lines. It's probably the combination of Ben being such a brilliantly written character, as well as Michael Emerson's genius portrayal. "If your talking about time travelling bunnies, then yes." "How many times do I have to tell you, John. I always have a plan." "Oh, so after all these years you've decided to stop ignoring me." And thats just the beginning. And what about all the non-verbal brilliance? Sharing a candybar with Hurley. Seeing his daughter shot in front of his face. I could go on. In fact, I will.

Ben is such an intriguing character because we have seen him do all these horrible things, but we have moments where we realize that at his core he is a desperate, lonely, devoted, good man. That makes us like him. To add to that, Michael Emerson's portrayal is incredibly vulnerable, poignant and honest. This creates the best character on Lost, perhaps on television as a whole, and most definitely deserves an Emmy. Or 12.

If you are a Lostie and familiar with Michael Emerson's genius, learn everything you can from him. If not, you're missing out. I'm sorry this is a less analytical, more gushy post, but thats what I've got right now. And we wanna create things people will gush over anyway, right?

And by the way...if any of you see Ben, tell him I'll have him.

Sarah Allen

Monday, March 8, 2010

Thoughts on the Academy Awards

First off, I'd like to thank the Academy for picking something other than Avatar for best picture. It won art direction, cinematography, and visual effects, which is exactly what it deserved. Probably nothing less, and most definitely nothing more. And this may sound a little cruel, but I can't help feeling some slight satisfaction in the fact that James Cameron was beat out by his ex-wife.

For us aspiring writers, paying attention to the winning films from this year and all the years past is probably a good idea. It couldn't hurt to go through and read some of the winning scripts.

And yay for 'Up' winning best animated film and best musical score. That just made me happy. I challenge anyone to watch that movie and not feel all toasty inside. I would love to write a movie as beautifully sweet as that one someday.

As far as acting goes, the clip of Mo'nique they showed from Precious was absolutely stunning. Judging just from the clips she was way ahead of the competition. And though, as you all know, I adore Stanley Tucci in sweetheart roles (Devil Wears Prada, Julie and Julia, Shall we Dance), and was a little weirded out when I saw he was playing a child rapist; but in the clip they showed, he was as brilliant as ever, geniusly creepy, and I'm sure this role is one of many that will show his range and competence as an actor. And yay for Jeff Bridges. He is also an actor who you just can't help but love.

As far as lead actress goes, if it was up to me, we all know the winner would have been, without a doubt, Meryl Streep. But 'Blind Side' is one I actually did see, and Sandra Bullock did a great job, and was by far the best thing in the movie. The story was good, but I thought the movie as a whole was actually a bit overdramatic. But like I said, Sandra did a great job, and it isn't a huge disgrace that she beat out Meryl Streep.

What did you all think of the results? Any lessons we can take away? Like I said, my plan is to read a lot of the winning scripts and see what I can learn. I also want to watch a lot of the winning movies and learn from that too. In the meantime, if you need me, I'll be in my bathroom with my brush, practicing my speech.

Sarah Allen

Friday, March 5, 2010

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland

Last night a few friends and I went and saw the midnight showing of Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland'. The first thing I want to say is that it was very worth seeing, and I highly recommend it. Very well done.

I'm usually not a fan of whimsical, fluffy, somewhat weak female lead characters (i.e. Cozette, Juliette...Bella Swan) and Alice can definitely tend that way, but I was actually very impressed with Mia Wasikowska. She gave Alice some spunk and likeability, and when she came out in her suit of armor she was actually pretty kick-butt.

The script, a combination of Carrol's work, was awesome! This was sort of Through the Looking Glass round II, and I think it worked. It started me thinking of what other authors you could combine/sequel like that. C.S. Lewis? Dickens? Shakespeare?

Having said all that, the best thing in the movie was by far Johnny Depp. Not surprising, considering he's usually the best thing in everything he's in. His slight gap-toothed lisp was perfect, and the exact quirk we as the audience need to get us really into the character. To put it simply, he is unnaturally natural in unnatural characters. Everything he does intriguing. It is interesting how the little quirks like that can delve so deeply into a character. This role is just another feather in Johnny Depp's hat. Pun intended.

Putting Ann Hathaway into a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp world absolutely did not work. I'm sorry, but she was terrible. Distractingly so, in my opinion. Her inflections and physicalities seemed awkward and forced, like she didn't quite know how to keep up with Depp and Bonham Carter.

So what are the artistic lessons to take from this? The best characters have quirks that bring you in and attach you to them. All the characters need to be of equal quality, if not equal importance, or the weaker ones will distract like a sore thumb. Give your main characters some determination and umph.

Go see this movie! It is very Tim Burton-esque, which I consider a good thing. It's not one I'm dying to go pay ten bucks to see again, but most definitely worth paying for a first time, and most definitely worth seeing. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Sarah Allen

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day Jobs for Writers

With the end of Winter semester slowly approaching, I'm at that point where I need to start making some job decisions. For the past 2 1/2 years I have worked as a research assistant/secretary to a religion professor at BYU. It has been such a great job, and I am really grateful for the opportunity I've had to work in a BYU office. But I'm graduating this year. Not only that, but I will probably need more work for the summer. Its time to start making some serious career decisions.

Obviously what I really want to do is write. But you just don't make money doing that, especially not in the beginning. So I need a day job, and this is where I need your guys' help.

In my opinion, a good day job for a writer has set hours and no take home work. This is why I can see teaching being a difficult day-job: because you're never not working. Preferably a job where your not sitting at a desk/computer all day, so you don't get sick of computers by the time you have time to sit at yours and write. And you probably don't want a job that will leave you too mentally exhausted to write at the end of the day.

With these qualifications, the first thing I'm led to is: retail. I actually think retail might be a good day job for a writer. Personally, I love books, movies and animals so this morning I have been on the phone with Barnes & Nobles, F.Y.E., and PetSmart. In a retail job you have set hours, hopefully enjoyable coworkers, and time after work to do what you want; i.e., write.

Here are some other random ideas:

Bus/Taxi Driver

Still, considering that I'm still pre-baccalaureate, retail seems like the best option. Any other ideas?

Sarah Allen

Monday, March 1, 2010

Liebrary: the best game for creative writers

I think a couple years ago my cousins gave me a board game called "Liebrary" for my birthday. It's still one of my all-time favorite games, and its very educational and creatively inspiring.

In Liebrary, there is a stack of cards for 5 or 6 literary genres, like sci-fi/horror, childrens, non-fiction, literary, etc. Each card has the name of a book, a synopsis, the author and the first line. The "librarian" reads everything except the first line. Everyone else's job is to write their own first line, and the librarian writes down the real first line. Then the librarian reads all the first lines, and everyone votes on which one they think is the right one. You'd be amazed at what people come up with.

When I'm stuck, I flip through the cards for ideas, and I still have a baggie full of all the first lines people have written. Maybe I'll write a story with them some day or something.

Anyway, just thought I'd introduce you guys to a game that you can play with your friends and family, have a ton of fun and be creatively inspired. Enjoy!

Sarah Allen
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